Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Famicom Cart Trading

LinkIn addition to the above cover image of the Famicom, another little thing I like about my recently acquired Hisshou Sakusen Mecha Guide is the last page:
This is a page for kids to record which games they have lent out to friends. From left to right, the columns are titled "Friend", "Game's name", "Day it was lent" and "Day it was returned".

This page, incidentally, is the reason this guidebook was much cheaper than the rest: because the kid who owned it had actually filled it out. In the guide collecting world, this is considered serious damage.

I'm rather pleased that he or she did so. The first entry states that the guide's owner lent Bomberman to a friend called "Turbo" on March 13. Either it was never returned or he just didn't bother to fill that column in when it was. The second entry states that Atama no Usenkan Garu, a game I have never heard of, was lent to a friend named "Non-kun". By that time the guide's owner was no longer interested in recording dates of any sort, and thereafter he seems to have abandoned use of the guide for this purpose altogether.

An extremely brief career this guide had as a record of a kid's lending activities, but its kind of interesting nonetheless.

As I wrote about in an earlier post, a lot of Famicom carts out there have kids names on them.
This is mainly a legacy of their having been traded with friends - a way of ensuring everybody knew which cart belonged to which kid.

My wife used to do this when she was a kid too, so much so that a lot of games she isn't sure if she had them or had just borrowed them from a friend. I think that is kind of cool.

Cartridges, I note, are ideally designed for trading like that. They are sturdy and can survive roughing it in a kid's backpack for the trip to and from school or a friend's house. Disc based games were much less well suited to this - the jewel CD cases the PS1 and Saturn games came in are pretty easily broken and the sturdier post-PS2 cases are a lot bulkier than most carts.

Digital distribution, of course, makes this sort of interaction among friends impossible. Which is yet another reason why it is bad.

Another interesting thing about this is that the Famicom's dominance probably facilitated game trading in Japan much more than elsewhere. As a kid in the 80s I played games first on an Intellivision, then a Commodore Vic-20 and later on an Apple IIC. I didn't get an NES until 1989, when I was 13.

My problem - and a lot of friends had this too - was that nobody I knew had a Commodore Vic-20 or Apple IIC. It seemed everybody had different computers or consoles. We couldn't trade games with each other since everybody had software that was incompatible with what everybody else had. If you wanted to play each other's games you had to go to the other kid's house, which always sucked because they (having the benefit of practice) would always kick the crap out of you on whatever game it was.

Probably kids with NES's didn't have this problem so much. One of those rare examples of a near-monopoly producing benefits for consumers. Go figure.

Related Posts:
- 1985 Famicom High Scores
- Famicom Cart Condition: Why Good is Bad and I Never Buy Sealed Stuff

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mahjong Famiclone

I came across this unusual Famiclone at Omocha Souko the other day - the Mahjong Famiclone.

Mahjong is an old Chinese game played with tiles. I used to have a set, but I never figured out how to play it myself.

There are still some Mahjong parlors to be found here and there where the game is played (usually for stakes). I ride past one on my way downtown sometimes. Most of the ones I have seen are tiny little establishments in hole-in-the-wall places that look like they are run by shady characters.

It isn't just a gambling game though, people play it at home as well and it seems to be popular among a segment of the oba-chan set.

Anyway, I found this thing kind of funny. It was only 780 (about 9$) but I didn't buy it. According to the box it has a built in Mahjong game and can also be used with regular Famicom carts.

Interesting too is the note on the left of the cover which says it is for those "aged 12 and above."

Related Posts:
-Pachinko and the Famicom: AKA The Stupid Side of Japanese Gaming

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Crazy Climber and the Perils of Collecting Loose Famicom Carts

I picked up a complete in box copy of Crazy Climber at Omocha Souko yesterday. At 2000 yen (about 25$ US) it is both the most money I have ever spent on a single Famicom game (which is saying something about how much of a cheapskate game collector I am as that isn't much) and one of the best deals I've ever gotten.
Crazy Climber CIB is a tough one to find, especially in good condition. You'll notice from the above photo that the box is a bit longer than most Famicom boxes. That is because it comes with "Climber Sticks" that are necessary accessories to play the game. It is also one of the reasons true CIB copies of this game are hard to find - so many bits and pieces go with it which might have gotten lost over the years. Mandarake had one a couple of months ago for 7,000 yen.

I figured this one was probably incomplete at such a relatively low price, but I opened it up and discovered it had everything inside, in mint condition to boot:
I bought a loose copy of this game last year. I'd never played it before but I had really wanted it for a long time. "Crazy Climber" is a really cool name for a video game, it sounds fun. And the cover art also looks cool.

But when I popped it in for the first time to play it? It sucked. No matter what combination of button-pushing I did on the controller I could not get the guy to climb up the building. It was massively frustrating and I instantly disliked this game.

Enter the perils of collecting loose Famicom carts.

As those of you familiar with the Famicom Crazy Climber undoubtedly already know, the reason I was having so much trouble was that Crazy Climber has without a doubt the most unusual control features of any Famicom game out there.

Not having the manual, I didn't know that.

With a lot of games, you can buy loose carts without the manual or box safe in the knowledge that your general video game expertise will probably be sufficient to figure the game out. Like Xevious or Exerion for example. Those are games that I had never played before but had no trouble figuring out in about 10 seconds even without the manual. Shoot the bad guys - OK, say no more.

Crazy Climber though is one of those games where just the cart alone is not enough. Your general video game knowledge will not be enough to get you through it. You need the whole thing.

Of course the internet has a lot of info, so even before I bought the boxed game I had been able to figure out what my problem was - mainly that I was only using one controller when you have to be using both of them simultaneously.

The game's actual manuals are usually a bit more to the point that online ones (a lot of which tend to be console-neutral) and I couldn't play it well without the Climber Sticks (I had one that I got in a junk bin, but you need two), so I'd been in the market for a CIB Crazy Climber for quite some time.

Anyway, I'm massively satisfied with this game now. This is what the two climber sticks look like on the controls:
With the help of these and the manual I am now able to navigate my climber to the top of the building, avoiding all the obstacles on the way. It is quite an interesting game, actually. The mechanics of using both controllers at the same time makes this a truly unique game in the Famicom catalogue, I don't think any others do that.
The box is pretty cool too. One thing that I noticed is that this one has a manufacturer's suggested retail price (5300 yen) printed right on the box (bottom centre in the above photo). Most Famicom games don't have that. PC Engine games (HuCards) all have that on the back and I always thought that was kind of neat for some reason. Especially when I pay 100 yen for a game that says "6000 yen" on the back. I like to pretend that I actually paid 6000 yen for it. Makes me feel like a big shot.

Ahem, anyway I'm revealing too much about myself here. Bottom line is that if you are going to get Crazy Climber for the Famicom (and I say go for it) be sure to get a CIB copy and not cart-only. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches that way!

Related Posts:
- Famicom Cart Condition: Why Good is Bad and I'll Never Collect Sealed Stuff
- The Vaus Arkanoid II Controller

Thursday, May 26, 2011

1985 Famicom High Scores

I picked up a rather interesting book at Mandarake the other day. Everybody, meet the Hishousakusen Mecha Guide.

This was an interesting guide book, one of many released for the Famicom in the 1980s. This was the third in this series and was published in 1985, 2 years after the Famicom's release and at the height of the Famicom boom.

It has strategy guides for 13 Famicom games - see if you can guess which ones by looking at the artwork on the cover.

Back in the day these guidebooks probably weren't worth the cover price (580 yen). Unless you had all 13 games you would be getting a lot of useless information. Plus for the most part the mini strategy guides just contain info that can be found in the manuals the games came with.

As a repository of Famicom history though this thing is fantastic. Most of its value lies not in the guides to the games, but in the added bonus features that crop up here and there. Today I thought I would do a post about one of these: High scores.

On page 158 this book has a list of high scores which readers of the series have achieved on some of the more popular Famicom games of the time:
I find this sort of thing very interesting, so I've translated the list below. The only difference between this and the Japanese original is that I've omitted the names of the hi-scorers to respect their privacy and I've also omitted the Hyper Series scores at the bottom which would have been a pain in the ass to fit into the table. Here they are:


Hi Score


Clu Clu Land



Star Force



Spartan X



Nuts and Milk



Balloon Fight






City Connection



Mario Brothers



Donkey Kong Jr.






Pu Yan



Yie Ar Kung Fu









Wrecking Crew






Route 16 Turbo



Ninja Kun






Ever gotten scores better than these? These look pretty good to me. The scores for Star Force, Xevious, Yie Ar Kung Fu and Wrecking Crew obviously represent the highest scores possible. The only one I've come close to besting is Galaxian, all the others are way out of my league. But then I suck at video games.

Anyway, I really like this because it reminds me of an earlier age of video games. You ever notice how the high score feature was slowly eliminated from most video games in a process that began during the Famicom's generation? It seemed that by the time the Nintendo 64 rolled by score keeping had been eliminated from all but a handful of games.

In the old days though, pretty much all games revolved around racking up high scores. The purpose was just to get as many points as you could. This was a really brilliant feature of them. The high score provided the perfect measure of one's skill when compared with other players. It gave you something to focus on while playing the game and provided an added level of intensity as it made everything in the game important. Miss shooting down a single space ship and that represented points lost.

Even in games where the main purpose wasn't getting a high score per se the presence of the score feature provided another element of interest. Like in Super Mario Brothers the purpose wasn't really to get points, it was to get to the end of level 8-4. But once you had finished every stage, instead of tossing the game aside you could start again from the beginning with a new mission: using score rather than levels completed as the measure of success. To a certain extent the fact that you could rack up huge points by just endlessly bouncing turtles off of walls limited the enjoyment of this but you get the point.

High scores: I salute you!

Related Posts:
- Famicom History
- Famicom Releases by the Numbers
- Amada Family Computer Mini Cards: The Coolest Famicom Thing You Never Knew Existed

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Japanese Retro Game Shops Are So Much Better Than North American Ones

ne of the things that I've noticed here and on other blogs and retro game sites is that pretty much every North American retro game collector's mission in life is to one day come to Japan. Why? Because of the amazing retro game stores the country has - best in the world by far.

This makes a lot of sense to me. My memory of video game stores in Canada is pretty bleak. They just kind of....suck. Very unattractive decoration, very limited stock of old games (if any) and very few bargains to be found (if any). I'm sure there must be some good game stores in Canada, but I've never actually seen one myself.

As my experience is limited, I wanted to check if there were any amazing retro game stores in big American cities like New York. So I did a Google image search for "American retro game stores". Ironically most of the hits in the first page were actually pictures of Japanese retro game stores. I did, however, find this blog here, which has a write up about a few decent-looking shops in New York. I note that one of those shops is run by a Japanese guy and another, ToyTokyo, is consciously modeled on Japanese toy stores.

So anyway, I think it is safe to say that Japanese retro game shops are in general much better than American ones. The question I am interested in answering is why.

If you think about it, it is kind of a mystery. America has a much larger population (and hence gaming population) than Japan and a much larger economy. Retro video games have a much longer history in America too, the industry didn't really take off in Japan until the Famicom's release in 1983, by which time there were so many video game consoles and games being produced in the US that the whole industry crashed.

These factors suggest that America should have better retro game shops than Japan because it has a larger base of gaming enthusiasts and a larger supply of retro games and consoles. But it actually doesn't have better shops. Here I'm going to just suggest a few factors that might explain the mystery, in no particular order.

1. Japanese Houses are Small

This is kind of an odd one, but consider this statistic: The average American home (about 2400 sq. feet) is more than twice the size of the average Japanese home (about 1000 sq. feet).

This has a big effect on people's lives, part of which has to do with storage space. Japanese houses do not have basements or attics and, if they have a garage, it is for keeping the car in and not storing crap.

North Americans on the other hand have insane amounts of storage space. They can keep stuff for years and years even if they don't use it. Case in point: my childhood Commodore Vic-20. The last time I (or anyone) played it was in 1991. The 20 years since then it has sat in a box in storage at my parent's place, waiting for the day when someone takes an interest in it again.

I suspect that a huge wealth of North American retro video games are similarly stored right now, just sitting there collecting dust rather than, say, sitting on the store shelves of retro game stores.

Japanese people, for the most part, don't have that luxury. Their cramped living quarters prevent the accumulation of crap that they don't use. Closets are in short supply.

The up and up of this is that compared to North America, very few Japanese retro video game consoles are collecting dust like that. People get rid of them. And where do they get rid of them? The retro video game stores that buy them, of course.

I'm theorizing here, but having all of these things in circulation gives retro game shops here a ready supply of retro video games being sold by people who don't really care what they get for them, so long as they are out of their homes. This obviously gives them a big advantage. Mandarake, for example, has two entrances - one for people looking to buy stuff in their store and the other (which is just as big) which is exclusively for people looking to sell stuff. They have no problem finding stock, it finds them. North American retro game stores, on the other hand, probably have a lot tougher time finding good stuff.

2. Japanese Cities Have Much Less Suburban Sprawl

This is another odd one, but it bears thinking about. Japanese cities do have their fair share of ugly urban sprawl, but in general cities here are much, much more compact than American ones and have bustling city centres that are densely populated and pedestrian and bicycle friendly.

American cities, by contrast, tend to be sprawling messes surrounded by god-awful subdivisions and box stores for as far as the eye can see.

I think back to a year I spent living in Winnipeg, which in most livability ratings ranks just ahead of Kabul and a hair behind Baghdad. It sucks. The city centre is a dead zone and the suburbs are just a depressing, sprawling mess.

This carries over into the retro game shops. I drove around to a few while I lived there. All of them were in strip malls surrounded by massive parking lots and completely inaccessible except by car. They looked like your typical strip mall store - bland. They didn't have much selection, their prices weren't very good and the whole experience of going to the places was just unpleasant.

Japan's game shops? Well, take Mandarake here in Fukuoka. It is in the middle of a bustling, vibrant city centre. Nobody drives a car to get there, it is on a street bustling with pedestrians and cyclists and with a subway station just up the block. I go there by bicycle pretty often as it is on the way to other stuff. There are cafes and parks and other cool stores nearby. All of this makes me want to go there and makes it easy for me to do so. Akihabara in Tokyo and Osaka's Den Den Town are in similar neighborhoods.

My point here is that good gaming shops thrive in a certain environment. Japanese cities do a good job of providing such an environment, American ones much less so (though New York does have some similarities and, not surprisingly, seems to have the best American retro game/ toy shops). Shops in such areas have a ready supply of potential customers in the thousands of people just walking past their store fronts each day. Strip malls surrounded by seas of asphalt do not get customer traffic like that - basically only people who specifically plan to go to that specific shop and are willing to go out of their way to do so will visit. That is a huge disadvantage that really limits their growth potential.

3. Alternate Means of Distribution

One thing about Japan is that flea markets and garage sales are not a regular happening. There is a flea market at a shrine near my place once a month that I write about here sometimes, but that is basically it.

A corollary of this is that outside of game shops there aren't a lot of places to buy or sell retro games at here. Yahoo auctions is about the only one I can think of.

In North America though? You've got weekend garage sales, regular flea markets, Salvation Army stores, pawn shops, Ebay, Craig's list and a crapload of other places to buy retro games in.

Bottom line: North American game shops face a lot more competition from other means of distribution than their Japanese counterparts and this probably explains a bit of their general suck-iness.

4. Japanese Stores in General are Nicer than American ones

This is something that maybe relates a bit to culture. Presentation is - in general - much more important in Japan than America. Most game shops invest a lot of time and money making their merchandise look good - for example by putting those cute handwritten labels on everything - just because that is the way things are done here. This makes the shops look way nicer. A lot of the game shops I went to in North America just haven't gone that extra mile.

I have to be careful here though. Not all Japanese game shops look great, and some North American shops undoubtedly do. A lot depends on the efforts put in by the individual owner. I think in general though that more Japanese store owners/ staff do this than American ones do.


Anyway, that is just four possible reasons that popped into my head to explain why Japanese retro shops are so much better. There are undoubtedly others that I haven't thought of. The only thing that I know for sure is that the shops I've been to here are really, really great and if you haven't been, be sure to do so someday.

Related Posts:
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 1: 007
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 2: The Decline and Fall of the Famicom Empire
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 3: Mandarake
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 4: Flea Markets Brought to you by the God of War
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 5: Don Quixote and Village Vanguard
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 6: The New 007 and Hakozaki Flea Market
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 7: The Other Omocha Souko

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Amada Famicom Mini Cards: The Coolest Famicom Thing You Never Knew Existed

Last Thursday afternoon I was in Mandarake, my favorite retro game / toy shop in town. I wasn't actually looking for Famicom stuff on that visit. One of my other hobbies is collecting old baseball cards. They have a glass showcase at the back with a whole bunch of expensive old ones and I went over to take a look at that.

As I was gazing at the faces of Japanese baseball stars from the 70s, something caught my eye at the bottom of the showcase. Vivid in color I immediately recognized the picture as that on the box of the Famicom game Gradius. It is one of my favorite box covers out there.

But what was Gradius doing in a case full of baseball cards? My interest piqued I bent down for a closer look. This revealed that it was not only Gradius, but also Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Kage - all in one box!

"By the gods, what method of madness is this?" I thought.

I always think in the voice of Conan the Barbarian when startled like this.

Then all was made clear. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce my newest Famicom related acquisition: an unopened wax box of Amada Family Computer Mini cards!
I had no idea that such a thing even existed, and I'm guessing most of you didn't either as Google searches in both Japanese and English for the phrase "Family Computer Mini Cards" (the full name of these) turned up zilch. So here you go, another blockbuster Famicomblog exclusive!

I love this thing. It is awesome. The individual packs used to retail for 20 yen each back in the day and the box contains 30 packs:
It seems they were released in 1986 and had licenses from Nintendo, Taito, Jaleco, Konami and Sun Electronics Corporation:
Open the box and voila, the packs:
But wait! There is more! The best part is actually hidden under the packs! Look:
I'm not sure why but squirreled away under the packs are three (awesome) boxes filled with even more cards:
I think these are the best part of the whole thing. On one side of them we have Atlantis no Nazo, Argus and Super Mario Bros.:
And on the other side we have Gradius, Super Mario Bros. (its on two) and Legend of Kage:
The cards themselves actually aren't all that exciting. Some of them feature the cover art from the boxes of these games, but most feature screenshots from the game on one side and a little blurb about whatever it is on the back:
But anyway. DAMN look at them boxes again:
So colorful! So cute and small! I probably like these better than my entire Famicom collection put together.

Well, maybe not that much, but they are still great. A must have item for the discerning Famicom collector. If you can find them.

Related Posts:
- Requiem for My Super Mario. Bros. Key Chain
- Super Mario Bros. Bottle Cap Collection by Pepsi

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Famicom Rockman Slang

This will probably be the final post in this series on Famicom related slang. I haven't done the whole list but its taking a fair bit of time. I might do some more at a later date.

For the last entry I thought I'd go for some of the Rockman slang, as that is a relatively popular one. These aren't all of the Rockman related phrases contained on Tata Hitori Famicom no Shonen's dictionary (from which all the terms in this series are drawn). I'm embarrassed to admit that I suck at Rockman and as a result don't play it much, so the meaning of some of the phrases were a bit beyond me due to my lack of familiarity with the games. I invite anyone out there to translate the other ones!

Here are the ones that I did understand:

岩男 (Iwao) - The Japanization of "Rockman", made using the characters for "Rock" and "Man".

カプコン的 - (Capcomteki) - Used to describe games that are similar in gameplay to Rockman. Literally means "Capcom-like".

金玉 でか金 (Kintama/ DekaKin) - the names of the power-ups in Rockman (small power up/ big power up). Literally these are Japanese slang for (ahem) testicles.

クイックマン棒  (Quickman Bou) - The beam on the Quickman stage of Rockman 2.

しらふで勝つ (Shirafu de katsu) - To beat a boss in any game in the Rockman series without using any special weapons. Drinking an energy can invalidates a Shirafu de katsu.

スライム (suraimu - slime?) - In Rockman 2 to avoid the enemy's shots by repetitively pushing the start button (not sure how that works).

ターターブロック (tata block) - The flashing blocks that appear in Rockman (named after the sound they make).

DIO様 (DIO sama) - refers to Flashman in Rockman 2 and Brightman in Rockman 4. It is a reference to something called "Manga Jo Jo" - I don't know what that is though!

土下座野郎 (Dogeza yarou) - A nickname for Dr. Wily. Literally means "Guy who bows deeply while sitting (kowtows)".

ヘルメットおじさん (Helmet Ojisan) - A nickname for the little enemies that wear helmets.

ボスハンター (Boss Hunter) - A person who is really good at beating the boss in games like Rockman or Akumajo.

Related Posts:
- Famicom Baseball! Reflections on the Art and More Famicom Slang!
- Ice Climber Famicom Japanese
- Japanese Famicom Slang 101

Monday, May 16, 2011

Flea Market Finds Part 2: Nintendo Batting Practice with Koichi Tabuchi and Sadaharu Oh

This is the other thing I bought at the flea market yesterday. We were wandering the vendors when I spotted this in the middle of a bunch of junk at one of them run by a cheerful middle aged woman. It was only 800 yen (about 10 bucks) so I snapped it up, even though the box (and the thing itself) is in pretty rough shape.

What is it, you may ask? It is Nintendo's Ultramachine DX, a batting practice game for kids. I've wanted one of these since I saw it on Erik's great Before Mario blog, where he has done an excellent write-up about it with some good pics of the other versions released.

Not wanting to repeat what Erik has already written I'll just add a few observations of my own about this thing. As the box indicates, it was released in 1977 by Nintendo:
Mine was not complete as it didn't come with any of the ping-pong balls that they originally came with. It seemed to have everything else though:
My favorite part is the telescoping Nintendo bat. Now it is full length:
And blammo - now it is half size:
I think just this bat with "Nintendo" written on it like that was worth the 800 yen.

Anyway, the two players on the box are Sadaharu Oh of the Yomiuri Giants and Koichi Tabuchi of the Hanshin Tigers. These are actually two of the greatest players in Japanese baseball history, so this is of interest not just as a Nintendo thing but also as a piece of baseball memorabilia.

Sadaharu Oh is particularly well known as the world career home run champ, having gone deep 868 times in a 22 year career, over a hundred more than Hank Aaron and about 400 more than Barry Bonds hit before his head ballooned.

I particularly like this photo on the side of the box:
This shows off Oh's unusual batting stance perfectly. He used to stand with one leg raised and wait for the ball to come, something very few players have ever done.

Both of these players, incidentally, at one point managed my local team, the Hawks. Tabuchi managed them in the early 90s, before my time, but Oh managed for several years and only retired after the 2008 season. So I have an extra bit of interest in this thing.

I'm not too sure if it works or not, it needs batteries which I don't have and, as I mentioned above, I don't have any of the balls it came with. Either way though I'm pretty happy with it. It just looks kind of neat.

Related Posts:

- Flea Market Finds Part 1: Epoch Cassette Vision
- Famicom Baseball!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Flea Market Finds Part 1: Epoch Cassette Vision!

The missus and I were at the Hakozaki Flea Market today. It was a pleasant spring day, perfect weather for flea marketing.
In terms of retro game acquisitions, I am happy to say that it was an extremely productive day. In terms of saving our money for the mature, responsible things that adults usually purchase, I am sad to say that the opposite holds true.

Fortunately though this blog appeals much more to the segment of society that favors the former, so I have some stuff to write about.

I made two really great retro game purchases. I've never bought retro game stuff at that market before, so I was surprised to find not one but two hard to find items at bargain prices offered at separate dealers. This post deals with the first purchase, I'll follow up with a second post on my other "get".

And that first purchase was.......
The Epoch Cassette Vision!!

I've been looking for one of these for the longest time. Just two weeks ago I found one for the first time at a retro game store selling for 20,000 yen (about 240 dollars or so). So you can imagine how excited I was to see that this one was only selling for 1000 yen (about 12 bucks)!! Complete in box and everything!
There was a small catch though. The player two lever is broken (you can see it missing on the lower right side of the console in the above photo). Other than that and a few dings here and there, it is in good condition. The seller, who seemed an honest guy (he warned me about the broken lever before I bought it) told me that it works. Unfortunately I don't have any Epoch Cassette Vision games so I can't confirm that.

This is probably one of the most under-appreciated consoles out there. The reason I've really wanted one is because Wikipedia says that this was the first successful programmable cart based console ever made in Japan. The key word in that sentence is "successful" as a little further research has revealed that the Bandai TV Jack 8000, which also used cartridges, beat it by a couple years. That wasn't a popular one though, so the Epoch Cassette Vision gets the "first successful one" prize.

It is a very unusual console too. You'll note that it doesn't have controllers, all the player controls are built into the top of the console itself. I'm not too sure but I think this must be the only cartridge based system like that.

I opened it up to see how easy it would be to fix the player two lever. I have the lever itself, all I need to do is glue it back on. Anyway, this is what the insides look like:
My conclusion: its got a lot of wires and stuff in there.

So now my new mission is to get some carts for this thing and try it out. And glue that player two lever back on. The games themselves are very hard to find. The Famicom just totally wiped this thing out of the market, so it wasn't out there for very long. I asked the guy I bought it from if he had any and he said no, they are really hard to come by in Fukuoka (that honesty again).

Its an important piece of video game history though and I'm quite pleased with it!

Tomorrow I'll write something about the other great retro game thing I got!

Related Posts:

-Fukuoka Famicom Shops VIII: The Other Omocha Souko
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops IV: Flea Markets Brought to You by the God of War

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Transformers Mystery of Comvoy And a Note About Old School Japanese Pre-Transformers

In keeping with my recent fascination with 80s robot toys from my childhood, I thought I'd do a post here about one of the worst games ever released for the Famicom: Transformers Mystery of Comvoy.

The awfulness of this thing is legendary. It is only slightly better than turning on a cart-less Famicom and trying to use the controller to make the gray screen do something. The first sign you get that this game was probably rushed through production is the fact that nobody caught the obvious spelling error in the game's English title. This type of thing is a pretty common occurrence in Japan, though it is rare to see such a flagrant mistake on a product made by a big company like this. Always pays to have a native speaker double check these things, I always say.

I'm not sure that the gameplay on this thing is even worth reviewing. The guys at 1Up have already done t a good job of it here. Having played this stinker and not gotten past the first level I can vouch for it being every bit as frustrating as they say. I think I'll just comment on one element that really illustrates the bad-ness. It is a horizontal shooter. Among other things, enemy tanks come at you. But your character's gun, which only shoots straight, is actually too high to hit the tanks. It is physically impossible to actually shoot the enemy with your gun. Your character just continuously points his gun too high to hit them and all you can do is watch in anger as each shot flies harmlessly over the enemy tanks. That is how poorly designed the thing is.

In the game's defence though, its awfulness means that it is probably one of the cheapest vintage 80s Transformers toys out there. You can get these for 300 yen (3$) or less pretty easily. Its a boring gray cart, but I do like the label art. Very Transformer-y. So if you like old Transformers stuff, or infamously bad video games, then its kind of a neat thing to have.

To change gears here a bit, I'd like to put in a word about the Japanese origins of the Transfomers toyline. Why? Because I'm very keen on the things and its my blog. So there.

The original Transformers are descended from a couple of Japanese toylines produced by Takara, the same company that made this game. Most of the original Autobots are basically copies of an early 80s toyline known as Diaclone. I have one of these, the Fairlady Z Car Robot:
This is without a doubt my favorite toy. It actually looks kind of....classy. The name "Fairlady Z" is really cool, and the sleak lines of the car are pretty smoove:
Note the two little human figures in the above photo. Unlike Transformers, Diaclones were not supposed to be sentient robots but had human drivers. Each of these toys came with one such figure. Somebody had accidentally put a second one in the box of mine when I got it, which was a nice bonus.

The box is pretty sweet too, Transformers fans might recognize some other first generation Transformers on there:
The bottom has a nice cut-away image of the car:
All the bits and pieces:
Not only is this my favorite toy, it is also far and away the most expensive retro thing I have ever purchased. These things are insanely hard to find, especially complete in their original boxes like this. Just the little human figures retail for about 50 dollars each (so getting an extra one was a real bonus). I'm embarrassed to admit how much I paid, but lets just say it was in the five figures.

That is 5 figures in yen, not dollars. I didn't spend THAT much on it. Still, it was enough to cause me to hyperventilate on leaving the store and then spend about 14 hours curled up in the fetal position full of self-loathing for having turned into one of those guys who spends ridiculous amounts of money on trophies like this.

Anyway, long story, not important.

The other toy series that Transformers are descended from is called Microman. Most of the original Decepticons come from this series. I have one of them, a cassette that turns into a helicopter:
I love this thing because it is the exact same size and shape as a regular cassette and comes with its own regular cassette tape box. The helicopter isn't quite as impressive. Like the Diaclones, these came with human figures.
I really dig the back of the box. The photo on the lower left demonstrates that it is, in fact, capable of being put into a regular tape player. the little energy chart on the lower right also looks like a crude predecessor to the ones they put on the back of Transformers boxes.

My "Microman Cassette Machine" doesn't actually have a Transformer equivalent, though some of the other cassettes from the same series ended up as the cassettes that went with Soundwave in the original toyline. Because this one turned into a helicopter rather than a robot (or some other sentient being) I guess they decided he wouldn't work as a Transformer. For that reason he is way cheaper than the ones that did become Transformers and I got this thing mint in its box for only 6000 yen (about 70$).

As a side note, the Microman series actually spawned two toy franchises in North America. In addition to the Transformers, they were also the basis for the Micronauts who came out in the late 70s. I used to read the Marvel Micronauts comics as a kid so these are kind of double-retro to me!

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